December is coming up and Christmas is just around the corner. How about learning new vocabulary and getting to know some Christmas traditions in Brazil so you get used to the celebration? Let’s learn how to say Merry Christmas in Portuguese and understand how Brazilians celebrate the holiday during the summertime in Brazil, especially what they eat for Christmas dinner. 

So, what does a tropical Christmas look like?

Christmas Traditions in Brazil

In Brazil, families tend to get together at night during Christmas eve. We call it Christmas night (Noite de Natal). People dress up in new clothes and a massive feast is served around midnight, where families celebrate the start of Christmas day. And when we say family, we do mean the whole family. In Brazil, it is common for cousins, second cousins, aunts, and uncles to join the immediate family for the Christmas celebration. 

Also at midnight, TV broadcasts the Midnight Mass, which is watched by thousands of Christian people in Brazil.

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Gifts are given and hugs and greetings are shared. Santa Claus usually leaves gifts for the kids after they go to bed, so they can open them on the morning after, on Christmas day. Santa Claus is called Papai Noel in Portuguese but may be also called O Bom Velhinho (The Good Old Man) as a nickname.

Many families also host Secret Santas, called Amigo Oculto or Amigo Secreto in Brazil, a game in which we exchange presents within a group.

On December 25th, families get together for lunch once again. However, in most homes, they just eat leftovers from last night, as in Brazil the 25th has a more relaxed feel to it. In fact, by the end of the day Christmas is not even celebrated anymore and many order pizza or fast food for dinner.

Watch teacher Josie’s video: Christmas in Brazil 

Christmas Decorations

Even though we celebrate Christmas during the summertime in Brazil we still follow the same Christmas decorations as the ones used in the Northern hemisphere. That means snowmen, sleights, stockings, and all of this stuff to are used to decorate our homes for Christmas.

The traditional Christmas tree is also popular around everyone’s home, even though the artificial ones made of plastic are most common.

As a very religious country, many Brazilians also use nativity scenes as decoration. In fact, this is a very important part of Christmas decoration in Brazil, with nativity scenes of all sizes displayed in living rooms, shops, shopping malls, parks, and front yards. 

If you follow the tradition, Christmas decorations should be removed on January 6th, when the Epiphany is celebrated. That is when the Three Wise Men paid a visit to the Christ Child.

Christmas Dinner

As we have established before, Brazilians mostly celebrate Christmas on Christmas eve. They reunite the family on the night of the 24th of December and wait for the arrival of the 25th. A long-standing tradition says Brazilians only eat Christmas dinner when the clock strikes midnight. However, it has become a joke nowadays because most people are too hungry by then to wait. Nevertheless, many families still insist on waiting.

The feist is abundant, with a great variety of food, drinks, and desserts. Appetizers are also served before dinner. Actually, Christmas in Brazil might be represented by lots and lots and lots of food.


Christmas Food

Here is the most traditional Christmas food in Brazil:

Roasted turkeyChester, a special variety of chickenRoasted pork legBaked codfish or codfish saladSalpicão, a Brazilian chicken saladPotato saladHoney-glazed hamRice

As for dessert, the most traditional ones are:

Panettone, an Italian type of sweet bread with chocolate or candied fruitCondensed milk puddingDried fruitsRabanada, some kind of French toastPavê, some kind of Brazilian tiramisu


How to Say Merry Christmas in Portuguese

If you want to wish people Merry Christmas in Portuguese, you might say Feliz Natal. Some people might also use Boas Festas, which means Happy Holidays.

A common sentence Brazilians use to wish everyone happy holidays is «Feliz Natal e um próspero Ano Novo». You will surely find this sentence on social media, shops, and written on Christmas cards. It can literally be translated to «Merry Christmas and a prosperous new year.»

Christmas Vocabulary

Árvore de NatalChristmas tree
AzevinhoHolly (plant)
Boneco de neveSnowman
CeiaSupper; Christmas dinner
Ornamento de NatalChristmas ornaments
Papai NoelSanta Claus
Pisca-piscaChristmas lights; fairy lights
PresépioNativity scene
Três Reis MagosBiblical Magi; Three Wise Men
Véspera de NatalChristams eve


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